I was so excited to demolish our old kitchen. The cabinets were falling apart. The countertops were stained beyond repair. And the sink was peeling, stained, and disgusting. I was so excited for all of it to be gone.
We brought out a sledge hammer and some other demo tools that we’d used in removing our wood paneling and went to work. And it was a lot of work. Lots of pounding, dust, dirt, prying, chiseling, ripping, and other mayhem. It all came out eventually, but we hit three major and unexpected road block along the way.
If you’re demolishing your own kitchen, you’ll probably have your own unique problems to deal with, but hopefully the lessons we learned can help you too. Here’s how we overcame our kitchen demolition obstacles and another lesson we learned a long the way.
The Gas Line
Our mid-century kitchen had a gas stove top and a separate wall oven. We easily turned off the gas below the stove top and removed it from the countertop. The wall oven, however, was another story. No matter what we tried, we could not get the over out enough to turn off the gas. It wouldn’t move.
Eventually, we tore out the entire cabinet around the wall oven and found the problem. Most wall ovens have a flexible pipe that connects to the gas line, so that you can attach the gas to the oven, turn it on, then put the oven into it’s place in the cabinet. Not ours. The entire line to the oven was solid metal. The builders must have attached the oven onto the wall, connected the gas line, and then built the cabinet around the oven. That oven was meant to be permanent.
Even worse, the valve to turn off the gas to the oven was inside the back of the oven. We could just barely reach the valve, but after 60+ years in the same position, it was stuck. We couldn’t turn the gas off. It took my husband a few hours of prying the metal around it, and trying out different tools to finally turn off the gas and disconnect the oven, then added a cap to the gas line. We are so glad to be rid of that appliance.
We ran into one more issue with the gas line. I planned our new kitchen to follow the same layout as our old kitchen to avoid moving any pipes or lines. Unfortunately, the gas line still needed to be moved about 6 inches. We didn’t feel safe working with the gas line, so we hired a contractor to move the line for us. Luckily, it was a small job, so it didn’t add much to our budget.
Removing the Tile Countertops
I watched a YouTube video recently about how to remove tile that made me laugh. “Just tap it with a chisel and hammer and the tiles will pop right off…” Not at our house. We quickly realized that there was at least an inch of cement holding the tiles onto the wall. The cement was stronger that the plaster walls, so ripping out the tiles also meant ripping out part of the walls.
Our tile removal went something like this: Hit the countertop several times with a sledge hammer as hard as you can to create cracks. Hammer a crow bar into some of the larger cracks to break it apart further. Use wire cutters to cut the thick wire mesh holding it all together at the bottom. More hammering, chiseling, breaking, cutting, etc. Finally, use gloved hands to tear away whatever part of the tiles seems weak. Repeat, over and over and over. Obviously, we had to use safety goggles with shards of tile flying, but we also made sure everyone in our house wore shoes that whole week. Those tile shards can cut deeply into your foot.
I don’t really have much advice on removing tile. Expect it to take a while, and don’t expect to save the base cabinets.
The Subfloor, or Not
Our last surprise came as we started removing the base cabinets. There was no subfloor under them! Just slats of wood over the crawl space under our house. In this picture, you can see the light coming through the floor near the crawl space entrance. That means anything could crawl up through our floors and under our cabinets! And the cabinets had no back, so it wasn’t too hard for those little creepies to get inside the kitchen cabinets. Luckily I have been storing all of our food in the upper cabinets, but ugh!!! So gross! I will never believe someone who tells me that houses were built better in the old days.
Despite utterly grossing me out, this was actually something that was easy to fix. Subfloor is made of plywood, so we bought a large piece of plywood and cut it to fit into the spaces missing a subfloor. We nailed the plywood down and sealed any cracks with expanding foam. There was one slightly larger gap that I filled with steel wool to prevent anything from chewing through. It doesn’t look pretty, but it will keep creatures out and it will better insulate the kitchen floor. All of this will be under kitchen cabinets, so it won’t show anyway.
Choose Your Kitchen Demolition Dates Carefully
If possible, renovate your kitchen in the summer, when you can spend time outside. We cooked outside on the barbecue, at dinner outside on the patio, sent the kids outside when the dust and debris started flying. And relaxed outside away from the mess of the kitchen. It also helps to work on your kitchen when you can take time off from work, so keep that in mind too.
Demolition in Stages
The first wall had very little on it to tear out, so we started there first. It was our practice wall so that we could figure out what we were doing before we removed the stove, oven, and sink and started living on take-out. We took a week or two to slowly remove a couple of cabinets and install our first few kitchen boxes. We also framed and built a small wall there too.
The second stage was removing the oven and stove and solving the gas line and range hood vent issues. Like I said, we planned for everything to stay in the same place, but new appliances and cabinets meant everything moved just a few inches. It took us a couple of weeks to get everything in the right place.
Our last wall included the kitchen sink. We were so happy that we kept the sink while it took weeks to figure out the second wall because the kitchen sink was the hardest thing to live without. I never realized how much we use it every day.
Hopefully these tips help you with your kitchen demolition and planning your kitchen renovation. It’s a lot of work, but definitely worth it in the end.